The excellent PBS Frontline site has lots of interesting documentaries and in-depth features on current affairs. One of them is The Hugo Chavez Story which takes a look at the leader now he is approaching his 10th year in power. The impression you’re left with is by the end is that the power has gone to his head somewhat and his presidency is becoming increasingly dictatorial.
I’ve never accepted the label “dictator” for Chavez because after all, he was democratically elected to power and he holds referendums on any major changes he wants to make to the Constitution. In fact, in this sense, Venezuela is considerably more democratic than many Western nations. However, what comes across in the documentary is that Chavez rules by fear amongst his constantly revolving cabinet – no one is brave enough to speak out against him.
No where is this more evident than his daily TV marathon show “Allo Presidente” which can be on air for hours at a time and is basically Chavez’s soapbox to the world. On it, Chavez is seated before all of his cabinet ranting and raving about anything from what he calls George “The Donkey/Alcoholic/Mr Danger/Parrot/The Devil” Bush to the incompetency of his cabinet members. His cabinet in turn, applaud him faithfully every few minutes. It looks and feels very much like a dictators auration.
One of the most damning parts of the film occurs during Allo Presidente. Occasionally, members of the Western press are allowed to attend and ask questions during the show. One of them is an Irish journalist Rory Carroll representing The Guardian who Chavez mocks with a completely unrelated rant on the imperialism of the British empire. Carroll, caught completely unaware, asks the simple question, “Why are you trying to change the constitution to allow yourself to be elected indefinitely but not the regional mayors?”. After mocking him for several minutes on the atrocities committed by the British Empire, he eventually offers the rather unsatisfactory answer, “It’s a political concept of mine”.
Exactly a year ago today, Chavez narrowly lost the referendum to change the constitution so that a president could be elected indefinitely in Venezuela. Just over a week ago he lost out in the regional elections in particular losing control of the capital Caracas. While Chavez has undoubtedly improved the lives of many of Venezuela’s poor, maybe these results are a sign that even they are starting to wonder whether Chavez is more concerned with them or inflating his own ego.